Healthy employees key to business

WE all know we perform better when we eat well, exercise and have enough sleep. But it doesn't stop there. Companies which encourage their employees to be healthy and fit also tend to have healthier workplaces.

Just ask Verdon Kelliher, CEO at software developer Simpl and former general manager at IT company Optimation.

He instigated a fitness programme for Optimation employees and was so impressed with the results that he is planning to introduce a similar programme at Simpl.

"Innovation had some turbulent years which resulted in there being only 25 staff on board when I joined the Auckland office. Not long after, we won two very large contracts in Auckland which saw us grow dramatically.

"Suddenly I had 70-plus staff with virtually no culture and no one really knew each other. Not ideal for building a strong business," he said.

"I had an idea that I needed to introduce a fitness programme - but not like anything I had seen before as I wanted it to cater for everyone, not just the gym bunnies. So I approached Leigh Hoban at Les Mills with my ideas and together we built it into a formal programme.

"I am a firm believer in 'healthy body, healthy mind' but I also wanted a good balance between fitness and fun - hence I included some happy hour-type events."

Fifty-five per cent of Optimation's staff joined the 12-week summer programme. Participation was voluntary with employees paying a third of the cost. Participants were put into random teams of five, with points awarded for attendance at the gym and events such as nutrition, weight-loss and fitness seminars, taking part in running and walking groups, and a soccer team.

Every Monday the group would meet for a lunchtime boot camp-type training session. But Verdon also organised social events. "I arranged many social events including an evening at a Nike store where Nike put on food/drinks and gave 20 per cent off everything. Points were awarded for attending.

"I also put on happy hours at a local bar once a month to keep it all in perspective. Once again, points were awarded for showing up."

Although weight loss was recognised, that was only one part of the challenge. "The ratio of points awarded to weight loss was small as I didn't want to make this a 'biggest loser' competition, it was more around participation. I ran monthly prizegivings where not only did everyone get points for turning up, we gave out fantastic prizes such as iPods."

The results were inspirational: 54 of the crew signed up with 51 completing the three months; sick leave was halved over the period, meaning the company achieved payback from investment in the scheme in five weeks; attrition plummeted; staff lost 57kg between them; and 97 per cent of participants said they felt more engaged at work. "Sick leave plummeted to an all-time low which increased production days. I received three letters congratulating me on the programme as they could see the noticeable lift of the teams' spirits.

"I never expected the results to be as good as what they were and there were many spin-offs such as people wanting to join us because of the programme. "It's fair to say the programme changed many people's lives ... People went on to run half-marathons and triathlons."

Postural and wellness specialist Michelle Owen also runs corporate fitness programmes in Auckland. "Companies bring me in to give their management/staff the tools they need to look after themselves well," she said.

She views wellness programmes as a cost-efficient way for companies to look after staff.

"I think corporate wellness is just about to ride a wave. We are not designed to sit for long hours at computers and people are breaking down physically and emotionally from this."

Often her clients team up with work colleagues to eat together and exercise together.

"It really helps to bring a team together."

View the Optimation programme at

Michelle's website is

Topics:  employees health

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